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KINSHASA (Reuters) - At least one police officer was killed on Monday in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in clashes between security forces and protesters demanding the departure of President Joseph Kabila this year, local sources said.

The national electoral commission announced this month that an election to replace Kabila, whose mandate expired last December, cannot take place until April 2019. The delay has raised fears of a new escalation of violence in the Central African giant.

Activist groups in the eastern Congo city of Goma had called for a general strike on Monday to protest against the election delay.

Unrest broke out by 5 a.m. (0700 GMT) between police and protesters, who barricaded roads and burnt tires, said Thomas D'Acquin, head of an activist group in North Kivu province.

Patrick Maki, a local journalist, said he witnessed protesters beat one police officer to death.

D'Aquin told Reuters that at least one civilian had been killed in addition to one police officer. Gunshots could be heard for several hours, he said.

The provincial police commander, Placide Nyembo, said he did not yet have information on casualties but that police were removing the barricades and had the situation under control.

"We know who is behind this: politicians who work anonymously, distributing tracts and messages on the internet," Nyembo said.

Deteriorating security across Congo this year, including a spike in militia violence, has prompted fears the country could slip back to the multi-sided civil wars of the turn of the century, when hundreds of thousands were killed in violence and millions are believed to have perished of hunger and disease.

Kabila says the election delays are due to challenges registering millions of voters. His opponents suspect he plans to change the constitution to remain in power, as other African leaders have done, which he denies.

(Reporting By Patient Ligodi; Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross)

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